Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday morning news [updated: fixed link and new story]

Police released details about the death of law professor and blogger Dan Markel.  Who the hell murders a professor and drives away in a Prius?

I catch plenty of worthless little shits plagiarizing lab reports in my class.  They offer the lamest excuses imaginable.  I thought they were trying to avoid punishment.  Now I know that they are preparing for a career, albeit a brief career, in politics. Here's the story of Montana Senator John Walsh's plagiarized thesis at the Army War College.  I think he'll have the opportunity to spend more time with his family in the near future.

I originally forgot to add this story to today's link-fest.  It's about how student services people deal with students' accommodations.  It's interesting but the introduction gives a taste of what drives us nuts, just in case you had forgotten.

And finally, a cute sixth grade girl steals the spotlight from some hard working assistant professor (link fixed) who helped her with her science fair.  Buddy, this is what you deserve.  Next time, help the kid figure out which paper towel absorbs the most water and get on with your job.

Here's some more advice.  When the kid gets more media attention than you, keep your fucking mouth shut.  You look like an asshole.  Nobody gives a shit about your research.  People like stories about kids being smarter than experts and stories about girls getting involved in science.  You are a supporting actor in this story.  Play your role and don't bother the star actress.


11 comments:

  1. You might also add the link for the news (posted by Gawker) that Buzzfeed has fired its plagiarizing editor. I plan to use the managing editor's memo to Buzzfeed staff in my comp courses, along with the story of the student who, this past spring, after taking two successive semesters with me, lifted the entirety of her first paragraph wholesale off of Wikipedia.

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    1. Here's the link for the Gawker story (which includes the internal Buzzfeed memo): http://gawker.com/buzzfeed-has-fired-benny-johnson-following-multiple-ins-1611269882 .

      And here's the Buzzfeed note to readers: http://www.buzzfeed.com/bensmith/editors-note-an-apology-to-our-readers .

      Definitely useful stuff for those of us who teach writing, and citation (which should be most of us, at some point -- at least so says the comp. teacher who agrees that writing is crucial, but also believes that it can't be taught, once and for all, in one or two courses, so the rest of the faculty don't have to worry about it, except when they complain about composition and/or high school teachers). In addition to the way plagiarism and its consequences are presented here (well, I'd say), the two messages serve as an interesting example of how to communicate overlapping messages to two different audiences (the basic values and messages are consistent, I'd say, but are appropriately tailored to the intended readers).

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  2. The story on accommodations is definitely interesting, and heartening, for us, and, ultimately, for our students. I know plenty of highly-functional, accomplished adults who are quirky in various ways, and quite possibly diagnosable by current standards (heck, I'm quirky in various ways, though probably mostly undiagnosable). They're successful because they learned to play to their strengths, and work around their weaknesses, in part because they were allowed early on to both succeed and at least partially fail at various endeavors.

    A couple of days ago, NPR aired a story on Glenn Beck's anti-Common Core broadcast, and the promo they kept playing included a quote from a mother claiming that failing a high-stakes test in Algebra had "broken" her daughter, an A student. I don't know whether problems with the the course leading up to the test, the test itself, or the kid's/school's/parents' approach to high-stakes testing, or some combination of all of the above, contributed to the failing grade, but all I could think of was "lady, if your daughter can be 'broken' by failing a single test, even an important one, then you've got bigger things to worry about than that failing grade." It's hard to learn resilience without at least some experience of failure, persistence without experience of frustration, and so on, and it seems like our most surface-successful students are often the ones who aren't getting their RDA of minor difficulty, which leaves them frighteningly fragile (and also increasingly hard to teach as they become less and less willing to risk even small "failures." Winning streaks can occasion a good deal of anxiety.)

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  3. On the science fair story (another piece with some teaching potential for those of us who help students understand how the scholarly research process works), it looks like the person complaining about not getting sufficient attention is not an assistant professor, but a not-yet-employed (and pretty desperate to be employed) recent Ph.D. Of course he's just managed to make himself look both desperate and ungenerous in public (and make his advisor take time off from research to referee the situation via a blog post with a detailed timeline), which probably isn't going to help his employment situation. Still, while his behavior raises some questions about his potential to be a collegial colleague, his situation also highlights the fact that even a stem Ph.D. does not guarantee one employment in one's field.

    Okay; enough comments. Can you tell I'm ready for my online summer class to be over?

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    1. I was under the impression that comments posted for an online class always consisted of the student saying, "Good story. I learned alot. Thanks for posting!"

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    2. Oh, I actually make them do stuff (and provide directions for same, which are sometimes longer than the required posts themselves). They post possible topics and sources for papers, and check each others' topics and sources, and then critique each others' drafts (following some very specific guidelines), and so on and so on. And then they have to actually write the papers, and then revise them. I'm a mean, mean horrible summer/online teacher, who just doesn't get that both summer and online classes are supposed to be easy, so a summer, online class should be easy squared (even if you already flunked the version taught during the regular semester).

      But I very rarely if ever conduct "discussions" of "readings" online, because, yes, they'd look just like the above. I have a few colleagues who (by dint of detailed instructions and draconian grading) manage to drag a bit than that out of their students, but it's a herculean (and often sisyphean) task.

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    3. Good post! I like how in the last sentence you refer to multiple figures from Greco-Roman history.

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  4. As one who has had to deal with the negative impact of reviewers' incorrect assumptions, both for publication and for funding in a STEM field, I think Zack had no choice but to go public in some way. The last thing a researcher needs is for the well to be poisoned (and thus publication and/or funding denied) by one of the reviewers saying "Didn't we already know this stuff from some 6th-grader's science fair project? I saw a story on the news . . ." (You might think that before basing a life-changing decision on their mere impression of the facts, reviewers would always double-check those facts, but reviewers are prone to human failings as are we all.) That the recently doctored Jud is not-yet-a-prof compounds the need to keep the well clean.

    In the media frenzy, Lauren's father, as well as she herself, abetted the media's angle that lionfish surviving in a river was her idea and that no 'real' scientist had before drawn such a conclusion. This timeline [1] shows that some of that abbetting happened after Zack tried to graciously work things out with the Arringtons. I blame the father here.

    My assessment of Lauren’s finding is that it was fairly predictable based on Zack’s earlier observations, but whereas Zack’s data were only consistent with the fish tolerating low salinity, Lauren showed in a systematic way that in fact they could.

    [1] http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/science-sushi/2014/07/24/proceeding-upriver-timeline-arrington-jud-dispute-estuarine-lionfish/

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  5. OPH, thanks for posting the link to the timeline. I put a lot of blame on the media. First, they pump up the story of "girl makes scientific discovery" which is fine. Then they put one group against the other: "girl outsmarts scientists" and "scientist says girl plagiarized his work." The girl's statements, assuming they are accurately reported, are incorrect but I cut her some slack. She's 13 and possibly caught up in a story about herself. Again, the media makes the problem bigger by not checking to see if a 13 year old's statements are accurate. 'Cause, you know, smart kids never lie to make themselves look better.

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  6. And thank you for posting the link to all this hubub in the first place.

    Because of the above juxtaposition of the lionfish and Senator Walsh stories, I read them within minutes of each other, and thoughts occurred to me similar to those of the author of this article. [1] Some quick flava:

    “When we fail to teach children about professional and personal ethics, when we don’t teach them how to make amends or learn from their mistakes, we tacitly approve their dishonest behavior and encourage them to replicate it on an as-needed basis throughout their lives.”

    Lauren is not a plagiarist, but she did overstate her case in certain interviews, and her father failed to immediately correct it. Yeah, I blame the media for this, and Albrey for his hyperbole that he should have known would be edited for maximum newsworthiness and questionable truthiness.

    [1] http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/07/plagiarism/374999/

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